Among the various different methods of Christian prayer, meditation and contemplation have been a central part of Christian spirituality throughout the centuries. Indeed, there is no one method for praying, as prayer is most primarily a gift of God.
Meanwhile, contemplation and meditation are recognized as methods that can be tools for growth in prayer. Regardless, they can often be confused with each other because of their close similarity.
St. Francis de Sales, in one his book titled “Treatise on the Love of God”, he dedicates a whole chapter to the fundamental difference between contemplation and meditation.
He gives an explanation on how, “contemplation is no other thing than a loving, simple and permanent attention of the spirit to divine things; which you might easily understand by comparing it with meditation.”
This common definition of contemplation is however, followed up by an illustration he uses, comparing it to the activity of bees.
Baby bees are called nymphs or schadons until they make honey, and then they would be called bees: so prayer is seen as Meditation until it has produced the honey of devotion, and then it is converted into Contemplation.
For as the bees fly through their meadows, settling any where they can and gathering honey, which when heaped together, they work in it for the pleasure they take in its sweetness.
In same manner, we meditate to gather the love of God, but having gathered it together we contemplate God, and we are attentive to his goodness, by reason of the sweetness which love makes us find in it.
St. Francis de Sales is trying to tell us that, as meditation is fundamentally focused on divine things, contemplation is that type of prayer which focuses on God himself, resting in his love.
Or to make his analogy simple, meditation is the bee in the field, which rests on various flowers, while contemplation is the bee in the hive, quietly consuming the honey that is there.
St. Francis went further to call contemplation a “loving attention.”
Moreover, mediation and contemplation have their place in our prayer lives and they complement each other.
Therefore, we can incorporate both, using them to draw closer and closer to God, who is the Author of prayer and Love itself.